Simply The Best

I’m deviating a bit from my format in this post. Rather than discussing one book in particular, I’d like to praise everything ever written by Pete Dexter. To paraphrase the laconic football coach Bum Phillips, who was speaking about running-back Earl Campbell at the time, “if Pete Dexter isn’t America’s best living novelist, it sure as hell doesn’t take long to call the role.”

I was first introduced to Dexter’s writing on a flight back from London to the U. S. I needed a book to read on the way home. I picked up Train, for no better reason that I particularly liked the dust jacket. By the time I arrived, I had finished the book and started a quest to find other works by Pete Dexter. Train is a hard-as-nails bit of noir that pulls you in and takes you with it as it explores the everyday savagery that passes for behavior in some parts of our beloved country. A devastatingly brutal attack at the beginning of the book sets the stage for a more languid and protracted tale that winds its way through the Hollywood hills. The characters are tightly drawn and real. The prose is both pointed and poignant. When last I heard, the movie rights were being kicked around.

Dexter was born in Michigan but moved to Georgia as a child after his farther’s death. He was a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and some of his best, often laugh-out-loud, columns were published in 2007 in a book called Paper Trails. The combination of warmth, truth, laughter and tears found there make for wonderful reading.

Dexter’s most critically acclaimed book was published in 1988 and won him the National Book Award for Fiction. The book is titled Paris Trout, and chronicles the story of a hateful racist in the post World War II South. Unflinching in its portrait of a man most of wish had never existed, it still finds hope and renewal in at least some of the characters who come in contact with him and inhabit an environment it has taken more than decades to demystify. Paris Trout was turned into a motion picture with Dennis Hopper in the title role and joined by Ed Harris and Barbara Hershey. The movie is good. Dexter wrote the screenplay. But the book is infinitely better and was extremely well deserving of all the praise it garnered.

The Pete Dexter work that has probably reached the most people, is Deadwood. He wrote the book that was later turned into the HBO mini series. The story of wild times in the Dakota territory is as vibrant on the page as it is on screen because of Dexter’s innate ability to cut the lean from the fat and get to the heart of truth no matter how ugly or ribald.

Other great Pete Dexter reads are; God’s Pocket, a story of survival in a rough and tumble Eastern neighborhood, The Paperboy, which won the 1996 Literary Award, PEN Center USA, Brotherly Love, about betrayal and retribution in a mob family whose destiny is unavoidable, and the recently published Spooner, which I’ve yet to read, but I will.

If you’re a reader, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted with Pete Dexter. You’ll find a lot of yourself there as well as people you’ve known and thankfully, people you’ve never known. But count on the fact that most of them will be unforgettable.

One Response to “Simply The Best”

  1. “Judy Holliday was also a minor actress who had exactly one sutbatnsial role of note-“Bells Are Ringing” with Dean Martin.”Her not so minor performance in Born Yesterday earned her an Oscar.

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